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Monday, 19 March 2012

Stand up for good self-publishers - by Roz Morris


     Within the world of blogging, we’re mature about self-publishing. We know to look beyond the term 'self-pub' or 'indie' and to judge a book by its quality.
     But elsewhere, all is not so enlightened. When self-publishing is discussed on, say, the books blog of the Guardian newspaper, readers leave comments like this:
     ‘Self-publishers are the literary equivalent of those mad people on the auditions episodes of TV talent shows. Every self-publisher I've ever come across has been operating at this delusional standard. These onanists are the enemies of literature, and a centuries-old heritage of the published written word, people who, ultimately, have an utter self-obsessed contempt for the reader, whether they realise as much or not...'
     Onanists? Oh no you don’t. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated rant. It’s what happens whenever a national newspaper runs a piece that (pardon me) touches on self-publishing. This is how the ‘outside world’ discusses self-publishing.
     (If you’re wondering if I read all this and took it meekly, I didn’t. I took each of these jerks to task, but they wanted their opinions stroked, not torn into little pieces. And they assumed that after all my self-publishing I’d gone blind anyway.)
     It’s no use hauling out The Da Vinci Code to point out how bad some conventionally published books are. That’s used as proof that indies must be worse. All of us. That same commenter again:
     'No matter how "bad" mainstream publishing has become, no matter how much "garbage" (garbage with a market, remember) it puts out, it will never be as bad as 99% of the self-published stuff out there.’

     Now he does have a point that much self-published work is unprofessional. But 99%? To a layman that might as well be 100%. Which is a problem.

They’re just hysterical
     Perhaps the ordinary reader is more easy-going? I think not - they have good reason to believe the hysteria. Because most of them think it’s easy to get published anyway.
     How many times has someone said to you 'I'm writing a book and I might get it published’? Most people think that if only they finish a book, a publisher will take them automatically.
     So if someone ‘can’t get a publisher’, they must be real scum.


We’re amateurs, apparently
     Even if our raw material is good, we’re too raw. Apparently we’re ignorant of the proper production process (look here, and yes if you check the comments I told them off too.)
     This is rubbish. Many of us have been around publishing a long time and know what should be done to a manuscript. To take me as an example, I’ve spent the past 20 years making books. I’ve commissioned, copy edited, proofread, passed for press, trained people - and run editorial departments. I’ve also, rather boringly, been given industry awards for it - so I know what needs to be done to a book. And I see a lot of self-publishers who make it their business to learn what experts they need. But to the indie-haters, we’re running naked and undisciplined, tossing off words willy nilly.


Our reviews are rigged
     If we self-publishers point to our reviews, they’re dismissed as a put-up job. Here’s another jerk:
     ‘most indie writers indulge in a mutual b/s festival of "I'll give your book 5 stars if you give mine 5 stars", with no shame whatsoever. The slushpile is out there for everyone to see and pay for, but it's covered in a thickening layer of marketing sh*t.’

     Charming. As if that doesn’t happen in regular publishing anyway. For the record, my reviews are bona fide, and have come from people I never knew were reading my books.


We’re average and forgettable
     The other day I heard an editor from Bloomsbury talking about midlist writers and publishing economics. She was asked if there was a danger that ‘the next Graham Greene’ might languish forever in the reject pile. Oh no, she said. If they’re good enough and they persist for long enough they rise to the top eventually.

     If that woman had walked in front of my car at that moment, she would have been roadkill. That is a big, fat lie. It has never been true in publishing or any other artistic endeavour. Ask Van Gogh. But because of such careless talk, the public believes things like this: (the Guardian again):
‘Even the best self-published books are nothing to write home about. There are no classics, no literary giants, no contributions to our cultural heritage being missed by the current system.’
     Suck on that, all you writers who were rejected or kept in limbo because you were too original. Or as John Logan said on this blog recently:


     I don’t believe in demonising publishers. I know they’re a business, and a precarious, unpredictable one. But I do believe in fairness.
     There is too much misinformation about self-publishers. This means our books are not getting a fair hearing.
     Musicians aren’t vilified for publishing their own music.
     Shakespeare wasn’t persecuted for having his own theatre company. Why do writers get treated like this?
     We must fight this ignorance. We won't change minds overnight, but we can all change a lot together.
     Correct these sweeping misapprehensions when you see them. If you read a self-published book that is as good as a conventionally published book, tell your friends, tell your blog readers, tell your people on Goodreads or Amazon to check it out.


     Stand up for good self-publishers.


Thanks for pics Cityhunter12, Elsie esq, anyjazz65, Gastev


     Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris.


     As well as being the secret author of many titles, she has two books written as herself: Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, and a novel My Memories of a Future Life. You can listen to an audio of the first 4 chapters of the novel here.

57 comments:

Susan Price said...

Everything you said, Roz! I am self-publishing because I can't get a publisher to look at my books anymore. I have been writing for 35 years. I have won the Carnegie Medal and - yes! - The Guardian Award. My books have been critically acclaimed and published from Japan to Iceland.
But apparently, I'm an onanist and when I praise your Memories of My Future Life because I know a good book when I read one, I'm a bullshitter.
I think we ought to ask: why are these commentators so scared of self-publishing? Maybe they're just out of touch - like my old friend who thinks mobile phones are 'vulgar and common' - and therefore to be pitied? And given a kindly helping hand?

Catherine Czerkawska said...

A fine post - and all too sadly true. Especially, I'm very sorry to say, with regard to the Guardian, which is supposed to be one of the last newspaper refuges of free thinkers, but has quite simply bought into the 'let's knock indie publishers' stance. And you're right - musicians who get their work out there are praised for it. Small business start-ups are lauded as 'brave' and 'enterprising'. It's only writers who are deemed to be deluded. With a lifelong track record as a produced and published playwright and novelist, I could name dozens of writers who are now indie-publishing. They too have fine track records in conventional publishing - but latterly, they so often met with the 'rave rejection'. We love this, but no, we can't publish it. These are writers who know their stuff and who are now selling well. I wouldn't want to knock publishers either - but I think it's time they came clean about the current state of publishing. Good writers do NOT always make it. The mid-list has collapsed while the bean counters desperately search for the instant hit, the stunning debut. In so many ways, it's publishers and agents who are deluded - convincing themselves against all evidence to the contrary that their industry is still honest and honourable. It isn't.
The sheer snobbery inherent in these responses is mind-boggling. Heaven forbid that the readers should be allowed to make up their own minds! Oddly enough, if you read the Guardian's own technology pages, you'll find a slightly different and much fairer perspective, but that's presumably because the writers there aren't firmly lodged in a 20th Century mindset. It's time we all stood up for ourselves and took these mean minded jerks (You're right - it really is the only word) to task.

misha herwin said...

It's about time we self published writers stood up for ourselves and each other. I too self published because my book was constantly rejected by agents, in spite of positive feedback. I don't believe that the good books will automatically succeed and the rubbish sink into oblivion. Publishing is almost akin to predicting the future. No one really knows what will succeed and what won't. Think of all the successful books turned down by umpteen publishers.

What we need is some independent review forum. The best thing ever would be in writing magazines and newspapers actually reviewed self published books.

Lee said...

The Los Angeles Review of Books is running a series on the 'evolving book world', the first piece of which discusses self-publishing. It's worth reading and perhaps responding to, and I've given your blog a plug as well:

http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/19448901473/another-100-000-galleys

Essentially, it does seem that a truly independent review forum would be a good idea - with reviews that are more than mutual support, no matter how understandable this may be.

Lee said...

Catherine, I'm not sure it's quite fair to criticise the Guardian for its anti-indie stance. At least writer and reviewer Damien Walter is prepared to be open-minded:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/09/weird-fiction-electronic-universe-ebooks

Some may think, well it's only weird fiction, but it's a start.

CallyPhillips said...

Essentially, it does seem that a truly independent review forum would be a good idea - with reviews that are more than mutual support

That's what we're aiming for at the indieebook review site!

There are many ways to address this issue, and we each have to take the responsibility to do what we can. Catherine and Roz write great angry articles, others make 'comments' where-ever they can. My contribution is the running of this site.. it's small, it may be insignificant BUT it is working to redress the balance by presenting reviews of good indie ebooks reviewed by professional writers - without fear or favour! We've all just got to keep doing whatever we can - the 'market' will evolve and we always need to be there sticking up for good writing. You say 'fight back' we say 'write back'!

Tim Diggles said...

I think you make some fair comments, as do those who criticise self-publishing.
I worked for years with people who self published, and saw some wonderful writing, also books by people who were self-delusioned. The commercial publishers are there to make money for investors, they need to recoup their costs with profit, the books chosen for publication in 99% of cases are those which they know will do this, so follow formulas and fashions, they need 'names' to sell books.
At a meeting of our writers group recently it was mentioned that one of my favourite books "Under The Volcano" wouldn't get published today. I agree but the great ease of self-publishing today means that books which are not within the bounds of current fashion have at least an airing however hard to find. Though I must say most of what I find is just as formulaic as the commercially published, which is a pity.
What I would ask anyone who bothers reading this is to buy/read/download work which they don't know, try new things, different genres. I know I would rather read things I get nothing from than be in ignorance of them.

Jan Needle said...

Let's face it, sisters and brothers, ebook publishing has exposed the world to an enormous and growing pile of utter and complete dross. It's in the job description, like anonymous web responders (in the Guardian, for instance) using cruel and brainless critical language they would never dream of using in real life. We've got to live with it, and go on putting out the good stuff, until people begin to understand the balance. Rome wasn't built, etc, and we're at the start of a long, long road. Even Guardian critics will get there in the end, inshallah. Don't be downhearted. This blogsite is only a year old. Look at the speed at which it's growing.

Lee said...

Hi Cally, I'm probably going to irritate a lot of people with this comment, but that too can be fruitful. Here's the heart of my problem with the indie bookreview site:

'Our reviews are all positive, because we weed out the negative. We want to make it easier for people to find great reads out there.'

Obviously, it's not my site and not up to me, but I feel that weeding out 'the negative' isn't giving a true picture of indie publishing. I understand why you're doing so, and there's plenty of precedent for this view - many will only review a book they essentially can be positive about - and it would indeed be difficult to get the balance right. However,a reviewer's reputation is built on honesty as well as perspicacity, and this surely must include at least the occasional harsh word.

Jan Needle said...

I don't entirely disagree with you, Lee, but I am at heart a cynical old git. I have a feeling, as you don't reveal yourself and because of the tenor of the posts you've started making, that you might be some sort of mole. I even have the feeling you might even work for the Guardian. Care to reveal yourself? We're all quite civilised people here.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Speaking as an occasional reviewer for the conventional market I gave up slagging off people's novels years ago and am rather ashamed of the scant handful of 'harsh' reviews I wrote when I was young and more sure of myself and my opinions than I am now. I think a reviewer's job is to analyse and illuminate. If I really dislike something, now, I won't review it, because - as John Locke astutely observes - I'm clearly not that author's target reader. I know writers whose work I loathe (some of them stars of the literary world) but I'm not going to set about demolishing them in print because it's all so totally subjective. Conventional reviews are not without pre selection. (There's a certain innocence about some of the comments Roz quotes, as if they believed the world of newspaper reviews was always open and honest and impartial!) Reviewers these days send in lists of books they want to review, and selections can be made on the basis of friendship, literary association or (sadly) personal animus - you know - a good literary row adds a few readers. I've seen it happen often. Actually, it's happened to me.
I think Cally is right - we all do what we can, when we can.

Jan Needle said...

Well said, Ms Czerkawska. How in the name of God do all the reviewers in all the outlets review the same half dozen books every week and ignore all the rest? Is it magic? Are these books so outstanding you can see the quality just by looking at the covers? If you're not a mole, Lee, forgive me for thinking you're pretty damn naive...

julia jones said...

Indie e-review is intended as a professionally written guide to books readers might ENJOY. It's not a mutual support network though of course it has begun with a small group of people. Plenty of other well respected sites take the view that they only review books about which they have something positive to say. Personally I've no wish to spend my time reading something bad just for the pleasure of saying so. We're not being paid as critics, we are offering knowledgable and friendly guidance. I feel rather as I did when I was an independent bookseller.

CallyPhillips said...

I think Lee,others have probably covered the 'positive/negative' review ground adequately... I'd just add that the aim of indieebook review site isn't to give a 'true picture of indie publishing' (nothing so grand) it's to suggest indie ebooks which people might want to read and otherwise might not find. These are sourced from books which the reviewers want to read/ have enjoyed reading. No axes to grind, no backs to scratch just 'honest' opinion from a disparate band of professional writers. None of us has time to waste talking about books we DON'T like or DON'T want to read.

My interpretation of the word 'critical' may be at odds with yours though. I don't think one has to be 'harsh' to be critical. The 'honesty' of our site is that we choose to critique that which we find good. I don't have a problem with that. I think it's honest enough to tell someone that we don't want to review their work in private via an email rather than pulling it to bits in public for the baying crowds! But I think this is getting us away from Roz's central, very interesting blog post. 'Nuff said.

Susan Price said...

Jan, Lee is our guest blogger at the end of this month! - an independent writer who writes purely for pleasure, but aims for the highest standards. Perhaps a little naive, as you say - but far from being anti-us, I think.
As for indie-reviews, I agree with Cally - indeed, I have reviewed for her site. There are so many people willing to dismiss self-published writers as 'self-delusioned onanists' that I think a site of positive reviews redresses the balance somewhat.
That doesn't mean the reviews are dishonest. If I hate a book, I won't review it. If I review a book, then the praise I give it is fully meant. I won't damage my own reputation by praising something I think poor, even for someone I know. This also means that friends can believe me when I say I love their book.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Wish I could do nested comments! Thank you, everyone, for taking the debate and running away with it.

I know so many excellent, even award-winning writers who could not get publishing deals. It's shocking how many are discarded. Although publishing economics mean that this is inevitable, we must do what we can to make the reading public understand they can get great books from independent authors.

About reviews... what can we do to convince people we are responsible reviewers? I don't want to shred a book in public if I don't rate it. Like Cally and Susan, I prefer the discreet approach.
There is a site that gives poor self-published books a pasting, and credibly - but it is not run by a self-published author. If we did it it would only be seen as another kind of favouritism, not as evidence that we are discerning. Much better to write persuasive and good-quality endorsements for the books we do like. That's not being Pollyanna, that's understanding how we are perceived.

Jan Needle said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Susan. But isn't he/she the person who says he/she writes only for him/herself, and the reader is nothing to do with it? Or have I got the wrong Lee? If I haven't, I'm a bit at a loss. Most professionals write to sell, and do their very best, and dislike only mindless, spiteful, ill-informed criticism. Anyone who writes only to please number one seems a wee bit suspect as a purveyor of useful opinions. I will, of course, look upon the guest blogs with a generous, calm, mature open mind.

Dan Holloway said...

Mm, excellent stuf, Roz. I have to say (it's like when I was a student and that fly on the wall was made) self-publishers who do things like rig reviews (and, sadly, that's not an uncommon practice - there are groups set up to gamethe system any way they can, and every day my Facebook feed is filled with authors beggig friends to review their books) make me madder than those who spit the bile, because they are feeding the myth.

I think the debate about the landmark-great self-published book is the key one. It *will* happen that a self-published book becomes not a commercial but a massive critical success, and is heralded as a classic, and when that happens it will see the start of a sea shift.

Personally I think much of the argument is misdirected on all sides. I'vge argued many times for a year or more that the big winners, relatively speaking, of teh epublishing revolution will be midlist authors, and I think that's true, and I think the points about high quality editing are essential in that respect. But I think the first truly great self-published book will almost certainly be one that has been barely edited if at all, one that utilises the whole process of easy digital self-publishing a d makes it sing. I know it's somewhat of a jokey refrain but I really do think "we need more bad books" in order for the truly great to emerge. And all of us self-publishers, whatever we write, have an interest in seeing truly great, fresh, never-seen-before self-published books emerge.

As for your points about music, quite. Though I have to say I meet few readers who share the prejudice of writers against self-publishing. But I'm lucky in that I write poetry and fairly weird stuff where readers are more willing to go with teh content rather than the process that produced it - and often quite like the "two fingers to authority" approach. I wonder if, when we make music analogies, we are in danger of making the mistake of thinking that music is a homogenous entity. Independently produced music is definitely more embraced and championed in some spheres (hip hop, garage rock, drum n bass) than others (swathes of Justin Bieber-alikes), so I wonder if, as self-publishers, what we would be best off doing is studying the demographics of people who herald indie music and see what the crossover of our products is with them - if it's high then we should be actively promoting the DIY aspect; if not, we should be promoting the professionalism.

There, I managed to say that without saying market segmentation once!

Dan Holloway said...

Mm, I've read through the comments. I have to say I absolutely agree with Cally and others about positive reviews (though I understand those who take out the hatchet - and it can be great fun!) - the point is to alert people to the great things that are out there they may not have come across. It's how twitter and the like already work - we retweet things we like, same with sharing on Facebook. We don't say RT....(ooh, don't like this) as a general rule. There isn't time, and it's more important to spread the good news than the bad.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Dan, yes, midlist authors are poised to do well in this climate - and will probably turn their backs on traditional publishing for good.

Yes, the music comparison doesn't fit 100% - just an approximation!

Know what you mean about the Facebook feed. I think it's obvious when a review is genuine and respectable anyway. You can learn a lot by looking at reviewers' other reviews.

The self-published critical smash-hit? We badly need one. At the moment all we have is holy Hocking, bless her.

Dennis Hamley said...

I've been regularly reviewing for over forty years now - School Librarian, TES, Carousel, Armadillo. During that time I have written about five really, really stinking reviews, for respectably published books which deserved every word of them. None were published: I presume the review editors were afraid of actions for defamation. Normally, if I'm sent a book I don't like, I don't review it. I like the request from David Blanch of Carouisel when he sends his quarterly packing-case. 'Try to find six books among this lot which you think are worth your attention.' Not as easy as it sounds. But after that injunction, all my reviews are good ones and therefore some people might regard me as some sort of incestuous soft touch. I can assure you - and them - that I'm not and I deeply resent the sort of comments made in the Guardian (which has actually published the worst two reviews I've ever had, including a very hurtful one from of all people John Rowe Townsend on my very first book. I once cornered the writer of the other in a lift and made him apologise). I almost feel like changing to the Indie - which might, as it turns out, be fitting.

I find that with most books, I'm lost in admiration as I read - though that's because I know what went it their writing and the relationships between their merit, my opinon and my admiration of the fact they were finished at all are not always in direct ratio. I do regard myself as a professional and judicious critic.

Dan, thanks for sticking up for midlist authors and let's hope you're right.

BigWIg said...

Hi there,
I really enjoyed Roz's comments, and had to add my own take on the subject.

I worked for years as a commissioning editor of non-fiction for a small independent publisher. I eventually left traditional publishing, disheartened by all the projects I was told to decline because they weren't commercially viable or were deemed too risky (in other words, weren't celeb cookbooks).

Maybe I'm too idealistic, but I believe that the books worth publishing are ones that take a risk in some way or that say something unusual, whether it be a N/F book about the space-time continuum or a teen fiction book about vampires. (I want those vampires to be unusual vampires, dammit.) This is what drove me when I was a commissioning editor, and it's what drives me when I am looking for the next book to add to my reading list.

I think it's the publisher's responsibility to help authors who challenge the status quo, rather than focussing full-time on the bottom line and consequently churning out trite, bland, and tired trash, even if it's by someone famous.

I have since started up an epress and each day I read something that confirms that I made the right choice. Ebooks rock! Anyone who is saying otherwise, doesn't get it.

For a jaded publisher like me, it's exciting to be able to tell authors to include all the images they wish, to explore how the idea of a book can be stretched, or to help an author come up with new ways to tell a story. Authors benefit too: they now have the chance to reach the general public without needing to play the exclusive and stuffy game created by agents and traditional publishers. They have the option of going it alone, or getting professional help through one of the new boutique epublishers that are coming on the scene. It might take hard work and luck for non-trad projects to get the recognition they deserve - if they don't flop - but that's really the story of publishing no matter how a book is published.

Lee said...

Wow, plenty of comments! (Which phrasing ought to reveal my nationality...)

I suppose I could wait till the end of the month - and my guest post - to introduce myself - but if anyone cares to follow some of the links on my 'About' website page, you will quickly find out that I'm nothing more than a late-start writer who tries to be professional in the broadest sense of the word. I've sold the occasional short story to small - nay, tiny - lit magazines and a very modest number of ebooks; otherwise, I give it all away. And yes, I do write for myself, with no other reader in mind, though I endeavour to be gracious (and grateful) to anyone who bothers to comment or email me. Writing is difficult enough, torture enough without taking someone else into account.

Since I plan to elaborate on this in my guest post, I won't say much more now.

Only this, Jan: 'Most professionals write to sell, and do their very best, and dislike only mindless, spiteful, ill-informed criticism.'

It seems to me that one can do one's very best - or try to - without writing to sell and without focusing on the reader. I don't see that this necessarily makes one's criticism of other work suspect. Some of the best critics are first and foremost very good readers.

Perhaps this makes me naive, whether only a wee bit or far more. If so, well, I can live with that. I probably will have to at my age!

That said, of course I don't favour mindless, spiteful, ill-informed criticism - only criticism which engages fully with the text.

Which brings me back to question of negative reviews: yes, I understand all the reasons for not publishing them, particularly with regard to indie books. The only thing is, I don't believe it's waste of time to talk about books we don't like - there's a lot of learning to be done from them too. We just have to be sure to have at least some understanding of the genre and its conventions. I certainly wouldn't review a western, for example. If I didn't like it, how could I be sure it's the specific book I found fault with, rather than westerns as a whole?

Debbie said...

I do wonder whether with indie books there's another layer though. Take westerns as an example. I don't read them either - and wouldn't know a good western from a bad one. But I do know when a sentence isn't punctuated correctly or a word is mis-spelled or a homophone used. Or when I can't get past the glut of words to the story buried underneath. And it may not be important to a lot of readers, but it's important to me.

John A. A. Logan said...

I think the atmosphere in UK will get a lot more positive for independently epublishing authors before too long. It was the huge optimism of USA authors J A Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith that convinced me there was some growing positive wave here worth getting involved with. I think we UK authors need to "get our blood up" a bit more and catch the wave fully on the bottom of our well-waxed and ready boards(!)
(Some of us have been kept out of the surf water long anough after all!)
(And not for fair or honourable reasons in many cases.)
And after I chose that WALL for my blog image, I realised how deeply apposite it was (must have been supplied by the subconscious that image. I started UK secondary school the month The Wall by Pink Floyd was in the charts...and Roz's quotes from The Guardian and elsewhere seem to tap into that same "dark sarcasm" and "force control" that "WE DON'T NEED!"...as The Floyd waould say...

George Fripley said...

I am a fan of self-publishing...there are too many books that fall between genres that get missed.

Sure, there is some rubbish out there, but there are also great books that I have come across on many sites that appear to be overlooked by major publishers - books that have made me laugh and / or gripped my attention. These books would succeed in the mainstream...but they get lost in the plethora of books on the net. It is arrogant to dismiss them.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

Debbie, of course you're right about usage - though glut also depends on style, which is far more intrinsic to a writer's perceptions and hence difficult, at least in some cases, to separate out as a specific layer (think Proust). However, I would still hesitate to review a book just on the basis of usage unless I had some understanding of what the book is trying to achieve. What if I misread a novel like Cloud Atlas or Riddley Walker?

20 March 2012 07:06

Dan Holloway said...

I have to say I'm with you on that, Lee, and this is one of the real issues that I see in the reviewing of self-published books. There is a self-puerpetuating emperor's new clothes-ishness about traditionally published books, especially "literary" books, that menas reviewers will at least make an assumption that an author is trying to do something, and will make the effort to discover what that something is. So disjunctive structure, strange punctuation, constant unannounced time shifts, all will be given the time to unfold their meaning. The same reviewer will come to a self-published book that does exactly the same things and say just that "it needs an editor" because they can't believe an author who chooses to self-publish would have the nous to do anything else. And that's just plain prejudice. Of the same kind that used to wind me up when I was studying English and we were asked to deconstruct layer on layer of Eliot whilst the poems I'd poured hours of intertextuality into were judged simply on whether they were written in iambs or not.

Jan Needle said...

Well I'm glad you got back to us, Lee, and I look forward to your blog. My reference to naivete was only in relation to what I perceived as your belief that traditional criticism does not work to its own hidden agenda. I've been a critic, I've worked for newspapers, I've wasted dozens, possibly hundreds, of pounds on books because of what highly respected critics have said about them. And lied, because the lit world is small, incestuous, and bent. Nobody except an eejit believes every word a critic writes, and that goes for savage criticism too. Axes are ground, backs are stabbed, friends are paid off, debts called in. Need one go further than the Christmas Best Books round-ups? Read Private Eye.

Lee said...

Hi Jan, whew! I'm going to have cup of tea - or something stronger? - and lie down for an hour with the curtains drawn. (It's actually sunny here in Germany for once.) I must be an even worse writer than I believed to give you that impression!

One quick comment: I feel it's important to make a clear distinction between literary criticism and book reviewing, something I wasn't careful to do in my previous comments.

Stacy Green said...

Go, Roz! I loved everything about your post. Of course there are going to be some self-published books that weren't ready to be put out there. But there are many more that are crafted well, with strong ideas and great execution, that were ignored by publishers who didn't (or couldn't) take a risk. For someone who still has a bit of a Big 6 dream, it's disheartening to hear that even seasoned pros are being turned away.

But I'm grateful to have chosen a great small press for my first book, and I'm strongly considering self-publishing for the second. For me it's about learning the craft and the business, and I'm so grateful to have so many options. Thanks to all of you paving the way for us newcomers!

Daniel said...

I think I'm more or less with Jan regarding reviews. They all have an agenda by definition, because they are all someone's subjective opinion. I personally believe ALL 1-star and 5-star reviews are politically motivated.

However, I do believe reviews have value. What doesn't have value are ratings. A rating is an attempt at putting a qualitative sheen on a subjective opinion. Averaging such ratings makes them even less meaningful. The meaning is all in the text of the review, where the insights and biases of the reviewer are revealed.

I no longer trust ratings or reviews. I make purchasing decisions based on the blurb and an excerpt. I can usually tell in the first thousand words or less if I will enjoy the book.

Ann Turnbull said...

Daniel, Nearly all the 5-star reviews I've received have been from strangers. Nearly all the 5-star reviews I've written have been for writers I didn't know, writers of long out-of-print books or writers who are dead. Let's not be cynical. I think the number of stars you are inclined to award for books you love is a personality thing. And often people only write reviews because they really love the book. However I do agree about excerpts. I love the "look inside" facility and use it a lot. And Roz, this is a great post - and timely.

Jan Needle said...

i'm with you all the way there, daniel. i think the stars system is iniquitous and ridiculous. theatre reviews (grauniad please note) even more so than for novels.

lee, i'll be in berlin from sunday for a week or so. buy you a drink?

Valerie J. Long said...

I'm self published and proud of it. I can also say, I've never been rejected. How that?
I didn't bother searching for a publisher for my first book. I didn't want to waste my time on it. I simply searched for a printing service and did it myself. I knew what a book has to look like, I knew about editing and proofreading, and I knew about typesetting, too. Okay, my cover could have been more shiny, but I had an idea and I sticked to it.
The above all applies to my German books. When I started translating my first story to show it to my English-speaking fellow writers, I didn't consider publishing it. But when I was recommended to a publisher and accepted right away, I didn't refuse. To me it seems, even after the quality-decreasing filter of translation to a language not native to me, the story must have had something, something worth to be published.
The final decision is up to the reader anyway, and my readers usually demand more, once they read one of my stories.
My 5c.

Ann Turnbull said...

Yes, I should have said, I agree with that too! I may not mistrust those who give the stars, but I wish you could write a review and not have to award the wretched things!

Lee said...

Jan, was that a serious offer? Unfortunately, I'm not in Berlin, though three of my children live or study there, and I love the city. I live in the hills above the Rhine, not far from Bonn/Cologne. A pity ... I'm always game for a drink (and I'm far less fierce in person). What are you up to Berlin? You can email me if you like: l.lee.lowe@gmail.com

Apologies to the crowd for this private exchange!

Dave Hitt said...

While I refuse to do rave reviews for friends/acquainteses if I don't like their books, I don't leave negative ones either. I'll blast a stranger for lousy writing, but tend to leave indies alone.

You do have to dig through a lot of crap to find the pony, but that's been the case with conventionally published books as well. We forget the dozens of books we thumbed through in the bookstore before selecting the few we wanted to purchase, but remember the crappy samples and free downloads we loaded onto our kindles because getting them seems to take slightly more effort.

I recently went through the first chapter or two of a half dozen indie e-books. Some were free, others were samples. They all sucked in different ways. Not Stephanie Meyers suck, but bad enough that they weren't worth any more of my time. One was lurid purple. One was just dull. One spent a very well written chapter describing someone waking up in the woods but with nothing, nothing at all, to make me care about the character or what happened next. One seemed like it was written by a talented fifth-grader who hadn't mastered the basics. I didn't leave bad reviews for any of them.

Just as I was about to give up and buy something from an author I was already familiar with I download a sample from someone named Sam Stone, got to the end of it, and immediately bought the book (for 99 cents). Smart, funny, well written, good characters, good action, unpredictable, yeah, THIS is what I was looking for. When I'm finished I'll be sure to leave him a good review, then buy another one from him.

Jan Needle said...

Lee, i'll email you dreckly (as one would say in cornwall but certainly not auf deutsch!. i'm out there mainly for pleasure, altho my partner is speakin at a conference. staying at a friend's flat in mitte. like you i love the city fiercely. used to go out lots before the wall came down and still much prefer the east (all our friends are ossies). i'll give you my handy nummer, just in case you decide to hit mutter hoppe's!

Lee said...

Note today's post by Frank Wilson, former Book Editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

http://booksinq.blogspot.com

Jami Gold said...

Sure, some of their comments and assumptions are true for *some* self-publishers, but the same could be said of some traditionally published authors too.

I assume that I'll end up with a mix of traditional and self-published books in my career, so I love supporting self-publishers who do it right. :) Great article!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Jan is so right about reviews. I hardly dared to say what he has come right out with! All too many years ago, I remember sitting in the middle of four very VERY famous poets who were reading and talking at a big poetry festival in Edinburgh (way back when these things seemed to have huge audiences) I was doing to intros, and generally chairing the thing, and gradually I realised that these guys (they were ALL guys) absolutely loathed each other in the most competitive way possible. And were intent on making that loathing clear. While their poems were all about humanity and understanding. It was a lesson I've never forgotten. Now I treat all reviews from the literati about the literati with a certain amount of scepticism!

Jan Needle said...

you gotta laugh tho, doncha!

Enid Richemont said...

I have a children's book coming out some time this year. I've asked (not pestered) the publisher for a publication date. There is no reply. Googling myself on Amazon, I discovered that it's coming out in July. How much effort would it be to convey that fact to the author?

I have two picture book texts for which the publisher has asked for a first refusal...flattering, if said publisher had got back to me when it said it would - in early March.

And publisher Three has been looking for an illustrator for a contracted-for book for months - but the world is awash with talented illustrators.

By contrast, over the past three months, I got together with an illustrator, and between us worked on a simple text, and published. Check out, MORE, on utales.com, and log in as 'reviewer', and you can see it, animations and all.

Publishers so often put us in the position of being rather irritating small children begging Mummy for a response or approval, but so many of the books 'Mummy' publishes end up on the shelves of charity shops,and we irritating small children browse and ask ourselves: How/why the f**k did they publish that? (the Madonna book, SEX, springs to mind - a huge flapdoodle, a ridiculous advance, and then it sinks without trace (and please let's not mention the lady's children's books).
E-book authors - avanti!

Linda Gillard said...

Great blog, Roz. You tell 'em!

I've joined the newly formed Alliance of Independent Authors http://allianceindependentauthors.org/, founded by author Orna Ross. The AIA will, I think, go some way towards making journalists take the best indy-published authors seriously. (Readers already take us seriously. They know a good thing when they see one.)

The Alliance will be launched at the London Book Fair on April 16th and I've been invited to speak about why, as a dropped mid-list author, I went indy and why I'm likely to stay indy. Could a publisher pay me what I've managed to earn in just my first year of independence? Well, I'm not holding my breath.

Money isn't everything of course, but - call me old-fashioned - I did object to earning more for my publisher and book retailers than I used to earn for myself.

blackwatertown said...

Very good post - well argued.
But I wonder if things are still as gloomy as they used to be. I get the feeling (and I hope I'm not just kidding myself) that attitudes are shifting along with the publishing landscape.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Oh for nested comments!

Dennis, your reviewing stories are hilarious.
Big Wig, I've met plenty of jaded editors who tell the same sorry tale. But obviously not loudly enough, because the myth that all good books get published is still fiercely believed. I wholeheartedly agree that the authors who further the artform should be embraced by publishers. In fact, now more than ever as it would be the only way to reclaim the critical high ground.
Lee, Debbie - no, I don't get Westerns either :)
John - your wall has excellent pedigree. Even more pleased I referenced it now.
George - absolutely. Those between-genre books are the ones that publishers run away from screaming, but that doesn't mean they're not a good read.
Lee (again) - actually I think Cloud Atlas needed a bit of an edit... (that remark to Dan too...)
And Dan... yes, it's one rule for the anointed and one for the indie scum :)
Jan - ditto. Thank goodness for sampling via Kindle.
Stacy - yo, thanks for stopping by! I know you've been toying with the idea of indie publishing for years and I've been yanking you away and telling you to see how far you can get first. But after you've launched, you have a much better base to self-publish from.
Daniel (big hug, another pal from the purple blog...) The ratings are a minefield of their own. I do teka notice of them, but as an easy way to see the best and worst things said about a book. Or a toaster. But I always download the sample. (Not of toasters)
Ann - me too, although one of those was from Daniel and I hope he won't be offended if I say that... (and thank you, I had a rather good time writing the post)
Valerie - clearly you know what's what, and good luck!
Dave - good point, I reject a lot of conventionally published books. I'm REALLY fussy...
Jami - excellent point, we might all end up with some books self-published and some with traditional publishers.
Catherine - that's hysterical. I can imagine.
Enid - Did you see Jonny Geller's rant in The Bookseller this week about how badly publishers treat authors? (I answered with another rant of my own... It's been one of those weeks http://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/why-do-authors-get-treated-so-badly/)
Linda - great to see you back here. Yes, I've heard about Orna's alliance - just what we need. And when you factor in the finances, self-publishing is a no-brainer. If you can reach the audience, you don't need a publisher. If you can't, though, that's when it makes a difference.
Blackwatertown - I do hope we'll see things get better. But part of the problem is that the industry is worried and wants to perpetuate the idea that indie authors are rubbish. My agent said to me: 'publishers are relieved that it's so hard for good self-published writers to be found'.

If Blogger eats this, I'm going to retire

Jan Needle said...

please your honour, i've seen the phrase twice now. what's a nested comment?

dirtywhitecandy said...

It means I can hit 'reply' at the bottom of a comment and answer it individually, instead of making a long list where everyone has to keep scrolling up and down to work out what's going on. Not sure if Blogger supports it. All clear?

Joni Rodgers said...

Thanks for this, Roz. I was bummed that by the time I saw that Guardian piece the comments were closed. I was astonished by the vitriole of many of the comments. You pretty much covered here what I would have said in response.

As a reader, I appreciate excellent books, and as a writer, I appreciate open-minded readers. And as a NYT bestselling author who's chosen to self-pub, I see no eight-foot electrified fence between traditional and indie.

Tahlia Newland said...

Sheesh, I'm glad you took those predjuduced people (I nearly said bastards, but didn't want to seem predjudiced myself) to task. Perhaps what contributes to these perceptionsis that it's not easy to find the good indie books and that's why I created the Awesome Indies listing. The requirements for addition to the list are quite stringent & those able to recommend them have the kind of qualifications that those who complain about the quality of Indies should respect. Next time you could direct them there to read the best ones. http://awesomeindies.wordpress.com.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Joni - what most of those snipes don't realise is that in the coming years, many of their favourite authors will be self-publishing. As indeed you have.
Tahlia - absolutely right. We need more sites like yours, and we need to wave the banners for them as much as possible.

Ileandra Young said...

Its true! I've read so much tripe published through traditional means that I've looked more and more towards self pubbed books to find something better.
It can be a difficult search at times, but some of the gems I've found makes it all worth while!

I think I need to take a leaf out of your book and shout out more about the awesome self published books I've found. The world needs to know.

Diligent Writer said...

What I don't like to see with self-publishers is the lack of respect for his/her readers. I know editing is expensive for some, but I feel that it costs the author more in the end when they don't do it. On the other hand, I have read a number of self-published books and share them with my friends. I do my best to spread the word. I try and support everyone. Self-publishers are people too. LOL!!
Great post!!

Stacey

Eres Williams said...

I don't see any reason why pioneers need to wait around with their Conestoga wagons for the townspeople to throw them a parade before they go.

Who cares what the commenters on the books page say about self-published writers? They aren't the droids, pardon me, customers you're looking for. By the time they slink off to buy their kindle in two or three years, their rants and whinges will sound like brontosaurus bellows.

Self-publishers can concentrate on the millions of people who are shopping for things to read who are willing to consider their wares. That seems to be the much better place to put our attention: with the vanguard, not the old guard.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Social Media Blog Solutions, I bet it's not as insightful, wise and humorous as my book. Yours sincerely, a girl who doesn't like spam.